by Tracey Paleo~
Two women on a roof top, on a very cold New York evening, one a captor, the other captive crying and screaming unintelligibly something about ‘are you going to kill me’, (well, obviously because there is a gun pointed at your head), crawling gorgeously, mascara running, dressed to (gulp) kill and wriggling around. One woman endowed with other-worldly poise, conviction, a weapon, a penchant for fairytales and bent on more than just terror, casually triumphant in her menacing stance. One woman insipid, spoiled and unbelievably confused. The other, hungry for violence.
Miming, snow, stomping on cold toes, cries for mercy, gun slinging, cool threats and sadistic behavior open the show at Bechnya as two sisters meet in the mind of one of them in order to carry out some serious revenge for only the younger having been adopted by rich American parents. The luckier of the two goes on to live a beautiful life, while the other is deserted, left behind to barely survive the atrocities of orphanages and war and then later to make her way to the states to punish her unsuspecting sister for both of their respective fates. “I learned English just so I could talk to you. I came all the way to America just to find you.”
It was a convoluted hot mess.
Life sucks and then you die. That pretty much sums up this tale of two sisters and also pretty much describes this populist and propaganda-ish play that offers a banner cry for the uninitiated, an alternate ending melodrama, a history lesson in the middle, substantially endowed with statistics, war horrors, deformed children, Ronald Reagan and mostly bad acting all around, then goes nowhere.
There are so many problems with this play it is difficult to point them all out one by one without discounting the whole. The writer, Saviana Stanescu, having the best intentions to create a biographical story somehow gets lost in which story she wants to tell in the first place. Is this a parody about modern adoption? Are these vignettes a part of the consequences of the falling of the Berlin Wall, the rise of democracy in the east or the resulting radioactive deformities and illnesses from Chernobyl, which caused adoption rates to substantially lower in Eastern Europe for a period of time? Is this a commentary on war, orphanages, foreign adoption and how much money is actually spent on obtaining foreign babies or just Americans adopting in foreign countries? (We look really bad in this play by the way – stupid, vapid, selfish and not at all adoptive parent worthy thanks to the caricatural portrayals of the parents who come all the way to Bechnya to ‘shop’ for a little white snow princess of a daughter – who, by the way, in all of the years she is raised in America by perfectly good English speaking parents, and although forgets entirely where she has come from, manages to retain the thick accent of her native land many years later – really?) Or finally is this story about the psychotic Grimm Fairytales that the one sister is living out in her mind while locked in a political prison awaiting death? It all wasn’t necessarily difficult to follow. It was difficult to thread together as a coherent statement.
It is supposed to be a contemporary, stylish, classically written story about the clash of the cultures where the east confronts the west in sisterhood. Where loneliness equals ego, ego equals fear, fear equals violence, violence equals passion, passion equals love, love equals family…
Bechnya turns out as an everything but the kitchen soup smorgasbord that falls into its own trap of trying to get away from avante garde, esoteric theater, which in some ways might have been effective as an art installation rather than a full on theater piece. It seems here that the writer doesn’t trust herself to write a straight story without all of the multi-media bells and whistles that distract from what could have been a more compelling drama entirely without them. For dissected, the seriousness, morality, the hurtfulness of the issues are definitely worth paying attention to when just the two actresses, Svetlana Iva (Shari) and Maria Bobeva (Vicky) interact and play out their adult meetings, the whys, the wherefores. These moments have much quittance and merit.
What ultimately saves this play is the absolutely resolute performance of Ms. Iva, the driving lead of the show. Remarkably, Ms. Iva is able to bind all of the elements and characters in this tragedy and miraculously take us from beginning to end adding substance, weight and authority with her powerful presence and pointed delivery.
Everything about this play has something wanting to happen that just doesn’t make it to “the point.” The writer and/or producer would do best not to worry about pleasing what she perceives as a sophisticated Los Angeles audience and tell them why they should pay attention to Eastern Art. Ultimately on a human level, one could say there is no difference. What we all want to hear, basically, simply, is the story.
Bechnya is performed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through October 22, 2011
The Hudson Mainstage Theatre is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90038 on Theatre Row
Tickets: Thursdays, Fridays – $25 Saturdays – $30